Helping to Close the 'Data Gap' at City Halls Across the Nation

Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, Arkansas Henryk Sadura /


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Lack of training and resources challenge U.S. municipalities trying to improve their decisionmaking processes, according to a new What Works Cities report.

Limited training and resources hamper city efforts to use data-based decisionmaking in public safety, economic development and affordable housing, according to a new report by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative.

Those findings come from 115 city applications and 39 visits to municipalities in 2015—representative of about 40 percent of all midsize U.S. cities.

With a goal of closing the city hall “data gap,” What Works Cities announced the addition of six cities to its program roster for a total of 27: Boston; Charlotte, North Carolina; Little Rock, Arkansas; Milwaukee; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Victorville, California.

“Local leaders know that the unprecedented amount of data available today has the potential to help them to bring dramatic changes to their cities,” said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the organization's announcement, released Thursday morning. “What Works Cities can help them fulfill that potential.”

Funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the What Works Cities program launched in April 2015 and includes a coalition of organizations including Results for America, the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University, the Government Performance Lab at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, the Sunlight Foundation and the Behavioral Insights Team.

The populations of the cities added to the program total nearly 11 million people and their budgets more than $38 billion.

Boston will work with the Government Performance Lab on results-driven contracting, while smaller Victorville will work with the Sunlight Foundation on formalizing an open data policy. Charlotte, Raleigh, Milwaukee and Little Rock will collaborate with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence and Sunlight to strengthen performance management and open data practices.

Only 19 percent of the municipalities visited by What Works Cities communicate their progress meeting strategic goals, despite 81 percent engaging the public regarding them. And 72 percent of the cities had a tool for opening data to the public but only 18 percent a process for regular release.

Similarly, cities were found to underuse information garnered through their established performance management programs, as well as data from evaluations in decisionmaking.

What Works Cities aims to help municipalities strategize around service challenges, engage the public, form a network and share resources to innovate and improve citizens’ lives.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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